By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

Not many things are more exciting or more terrifying than buying a new house. It’s a big decision that requires lots of forethought and even lots of afterthought to make sure you ultimately get the right home for you and your family. So this week we offer some tips for shopping for and improving your next home.

First, as you embark on the fun and, yes, often difficult task of looking for a house, be careful not to get caught up in the concept of a “dream home.” It is important to weigh what aspects of a home are import to you — a large gathering area, a certain number of bedrooms, the size of the garage. But be aware that it’s rare to find the ultimate home waiting for you to move in. Therefore you also have to weigh what you can live with or without and what you can reasonably expect to change if you buy the house.

Next, the old real estate adage of “location, location, location” is most definitely true. No architect or contractor can fix location! Make sure your prospective home is in a neighborhood that suits your family circumstances. Look at things such as diversity, local schools and proximity to other aspects of your life such as work or extended family.

If you are looking at a house to which you will want to make changes, learn the local zoning ordinances before you buy. These ordinances may restrict what you are able to do to the home. Check issues such as whether your area is restricted to single-family homes, what the height restriction is for additions and what restrictive covenants are associated with the property.

Once you’ve purchased a house, you have the opportunity to make changes to the property that will affect the value — for better or worse. Then first ask yourself how long you will be in the home. Will you be there for a few years, or do you think this is your forever home? If you plan to stay for a few years, you’ll want to heavily consider resale potential in any changes you make. If you plan to stay for decades, you may feel more free to customize to your specific family and tastes.

Before you make changes, it’s wise to live in the house for several months. Observe how your family functions in the home and make notes about what could improve day-to-day life. The way spaces are used, how you move from room to room or how much storage you have are just a few things to study.

Finally, make sure the money you invest in your home — both in the purchase price and in renovations — is in line with your personal budget and with the average cost of homes in your neighborhood. In terms of resale, it is not usually wise to be the most expensive home in an area. Your improvements should have some comparable examples in the homes around you.

It’s like we always say, an ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure. Or in other words, if you carefully consider what you want before you buy a house and what will be involved after you’ve made the big purchase, you will save yourself money, time and frustration. And you will ultimately get the dream home you hoped for. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Buying a home? Do homework